Cookin’ with New Releases. Here’s What’s on the Stove, But You Might Want to Read This Before You Try Some.

Where has this group been hiding? County Antrim in Ireland, apparently. They’ve toured Germany with Solas, and they now have an American release on Compass (and you know how picky CEO Alison Brown is). Beoga does not eat at ordinary Irish restaurants with apologies to the potato. Sean Og Graham and Damian Mckee add spice with duel accordions, and guests surprise with a touch of hot sauce in the form of trumpet or flugelhorn – just enough to add flavor without overwhelming you. Fiddler and singer Niamh Dunne has joined them, recreating “Factory Girl” and surprising us with Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work.” Four-time all-Ireland bodhran champ Eamon Murray and pianst Liam Bradley round out the group. This is how Irish music should taste!

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This is mostly a pop album, but not a bad one, and there are 3 songs and one instrumental that crossover. In other words, you normally wouldn’t order this at a Folk Alley restaurant, but we all like to eat elsewhere once in a while. “I Will Sing Your Praise” is a touching gift of honesty. If you’ve ever wanted to say something really nice to someone, but you haven’t, play them this song. “Romeo’s Tune” is also a simple, straightforward message, and it’s genuine. Forbert speaks for all of us when asking another to come to him just to say that they’re all right. I don’t know what’s wrong with Steve’s voice; he sounds very raspy. He may struggle to sing, but not to communicate. If his songs were a recipe, perhaps another cook should make the meal? I’m sure that will happen, but this guy has so much goodness, I would try his cookin’ – at least a few of the meals offered here.

The Pines are new, produced by Bo Ramsey (Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams). He was the logical choice since his sons are in the band. They’re not the most gifted singers, but they’ve listened to Dad for presentation and arrangement. The tension and release qualities are everywhere, Bo urges restraint which makes us listen harder, and it forces the lyrics out front. In “Circle Around the Sun” a couple disturbed by world events watch boats in the harbor, feeling fortunate to have each other: “Discount visions of ecstasy, borrowed solitude…Fighting never keeps the very things that fighting won. Throw your arms around me like a circle around the sun” The other two gems are “Horse and Buggy” and “Throw me in the River.” The entire CD does not a restaurant make, but I’d recommend these 3 entrees for any meal of the day.

I don’t know how Loudon comes up with his recipes, but I always have his ingredients in my kitchen. Cumin, for example, is for prolonged heat. Each song we’re selecting from this album, and there are six, strike you the first time, and then you can’t forget them. Lemon provides just the tart surprise you weren’t expecting. In “Can’t Fail Me Now,” for example, we discover the fear behind commitment. It is indeed a sour experience when you need someone and at that very moment they decide to disappear. “Stange Wierdos” is sweet. If each of us misfits could find another misfit, all misfits would fit. Ya think? “Grey in LA” is salty. Loudon finds joy in rain while everyone else complains. His expressions do poke at us, but otherwise we wouldn’t listen. This song is a reminder not to follow the crowd. Every song from Mr. Wainwright is a reminder or a discovery. All of them are either from or are inspired by the film “Knocked Up.” I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve tasted Loudon’s cooking several times, and this album will not have you leaving the table hungry.

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This album is well titled. Rani Arbo’s attitude is positive and I’m sure that’s how she recovered from her recent illness. Her group delivers spirited performances and many of the songs are spiritual. “Joy Comes Back” opens the CD and “Shine On” closes it. There is no let down in the middle. Her husband Scott Kessel plays the drumship enterprise which includes a suitcase and a tuna fish can. It’s loads of fun to watch him and the sound carries over to this recording just fine. Be sure to pay attention to “Roses,” as Rani uncovers a older woman who plants flowers. Almost like John Prine’s “Hello In There,” we receive another reminder not to pass by seemingly insignificant people. We all have a story and we all should be less selfish with our time. The other can’t miss is “Hole in Heaven” as Rani ponders if connections continue after death. If Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem offer to cook at your place, you better open up all the doors, and borrow every table and chair you can because the whole town should come.

This CD offers two bonuses. First, every offering is a taste treat, and there is a companion DVD so you can watch the group in action. Like Beoga above, Grada mixes up the arrangements so that you hear true medleys – not same sounding sets. They’ll vary the pace, change an instrument, or the key, and everybody solos, more like Jazz and less like old time Irish music. The songs are smart too: “Red Civic” is for anyone who chooses reliability first in transportation. Although after the song is over you’ll wonder if they’re talking about something other than a car… “River” is a song about friendship and the end of rage. The world has grown so hostile and as different as we all are, almost everyone has a favorite river in which to retreat. River’s offer peace, they calm us, and they can connect us. How is Grada like a meal? Consistent. Everytime you order from them it’ll be good. They give a lot of attention to every song on every CD. There’s a reason why Alan Doherty (flute) was chosen to play the melody in the “Lord of the Rings” movies. He simply sparkles. If he’s the entree, you don’t crave dessert. I seldom make comparisons, but what Irish band is better?

Jim Blum

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